City to Sweep Sites of Recent Shootings; Unclear When In-Person Council Meetings Will Resume; Homelessness Authority Frustrated by Chopp Money Grab

1. The city plans to remove two encampments on Friday, including one in a vacant hillside lot along 10th Ave. S between S. Weller St. and Dearborn Ave. S where a 43-year-old homeless man, Arkan Al-Aboudy, was shot to death on March 17. Currently, there are about 50 tents at the 10th Ave. site, which spills out into 10th Avenue itself and down the hill to Dearborn. The area has been the site of encampments for many years, and marks the northern boundary of an infamous encampment known as the Jungle that the city removed in 2016.

The vacant land where the encampment is located has been owned since the late 1990s by Christopher Koh, a developer and landlord whose company, Coho Real Estate, also owns and operates a number of apartment buildings in the University District and the International District. A small city park called Beacon Place is located in the middle of the property.

According to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, the city can’t require fencing around private property, and the property owner has no plans “in the short term” to fence in or otherwise secure the site.

Contacted by phone, Koh said he supports the encampment removal and has no plans “in the short term” to fence in or otherwise secure the site, which is adjacent to a Seattle Housing Authority apartment building and the Seattle Indian Health Board clinic.

“At one time, there was a discussion with the city about placing a fence” around the property, Koh said, but the city decided not to do so because it could impede emergency response to the area. “I recall [the Seattle Police Department] saying it can be dangerous for the police to go into an area where it’s completely fenced off like that—where there isn’t visibility,” Koh said. SPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The city often prevents new encampments from cropping up on land it owns by erecting fences around the area; you can see them all over the city, from underneath the Ballard Bridge to City Hall Park in downtown Seattle. According to a spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, the city can’t require fencing around private property, and the city’s Vacant Building Monitoring program only applies to properties with buildings, not vacant lots.

The city will also remove a small encampment at I-5 and 45th Ave. NE where Santo Zepeda-Campos, 38, was fatally shot on Sunday, March 20.

A spokesman for Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office said both encampments “are being removed to address immediate public safety issues” in response to the shootings. REACH, the city’s outreach contractor, has been doing outreach at the site, and “will decide based on [the] situation whether they come in Friday,” according to REACH director Chloe Gale.

The encampment is located a block away from the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Navigation Center shelter, which is one of the receiving sites for HOPE team referrals.

UPDATE Friday, March 25: Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said Friday that about 20 people living at the 10th Avenue encampment received referrals to shelter from the city’s HOPE team before parks department workers removed the encampment Friday morning.

Housen said encampment residents received referrals to Jan and Peter’s Place (a women’s shelter), Otto’s Place (a men’s shelter run by the same organization, Compass Housing Alliance), the Navigation Center, the Roy Street men’s shelter, and the True Hope tiny house village in the Central District. All four shelters are are congregate emergency shelters, meaning that people sleep in common sleeping areas; only the Navigation Center allows all genders, although people sleep in gender-segregated areas.

As we’ve reported, most of the city’s shelter “referrals” do not result in a person actually checking in at a shelter and sleeping there. People decide not to enter emergency shelter after receiving a referral for a variety of reasons, including the desire to stay with a partner or pet, not wanting to relinquish bulky possessions, or other barriers imposed by a shelter, such as strict rules against using drugs or alcohol.

2. Although employees in most city departments began returning to their physical offices on March 16, the mayor’s return-to-work directive doesn’t apply to the legislative branch, which is returning to the office more slowly and won’t resume in-person council meetings any time soon.

In an email sent Friday, March 18, City Council President Debora Juarez told city council staffers that they would need to return to the office or work out alternative work schedules by April 27, six weeks after the rest of the city. (Bargaining with unions representing two sets of legislative staffers was one of the reasons for the slower timeline.) Juarez has reportedly been reluctant to return to in-person council meetings, and her email suggests that future council meetings might happen either “onsite in Council Chambers or in a hybrid remote meeting style.”

According to council staff, the department hasn’t figured out the logistics of conducting hybrid meetings, and it’s unclear whether “hybrid remote” refers to meetings that would continue to be entirely remote, or whether some council members would return to council chambers while others tapped in from home or their offices. Juarez did not respond to a request for clarification, and a staffer said any decision about whether to return to in-person meetings was not part of the overall return-to-work announcement.

In her email, Juarez encourages legislative staffers who do return to the office to wear a red, yellow, or green wristband “to communicate your level of comfort with respect to close contacts.” According to Juarez, the idea came from a staffer in Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s office. “I also feel the wrist bands are an excellent way to say ‘Welcome Back’ to the workplace,” Juarez wrote. “Having a sense of personal safety is important to all of us.” The mayor’s office has distributed similar wristbands, but the trend hasn’t trickled down yet to departmental employees, who make up the majority of city staff.

3. The Seattle Times reported today that State Rep. Frank Chopp, who co-founded the Low Income Housing Institute, intervened to apportion $2 million from the state budget to LIHI tiny house villages that did not make the cut for funding in a competitive bidding process conducted by the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

As we reported earlier this week, the regional authority allocated about $4 million in federal and local dollars (including federal Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery dollars allocated through the state budget) to three non-congregate shelter projects. Chopp’s unusual intervention reversed funding for two of those projects—an expansion of Catholic Community Services’ Pallet shelter on 15th Ave. W and a new tiny house village operated by Chief Seattle Club in collaboration with LIHI—to fund LIHI projects elsewhere.

Chopp did not respond to a request for comment. Unless Governor Jay Inslee issues a line-item veto of the funding allocation, it will most likely be final. Although the money came from a one-time federal allocation, the move calls into question how much power the regional authority will have to allocate money that flows through the state in the future. (Currently, the vast majority of the authority’s funding comes from the city of Seattle, with about 29 percent coming from King County).

“We very intentionally ran a competitive bidding process that engages the community and that engages people with lived experience,” KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens told PubliCola. “That is really important to us—it’s a matter of fairness and equity.” According to a scoring sheet provided by the authority, LIHI’s two tiny house villages ranked fourth and sixth among the top six applications, respectively; a proposal by Pallet Shelter to run its own shelter village ranked fifth.

Martens said the authority still hopes to fund the two projects that will lose state funding if Chopp’s decision stands. “We are going to talk to the city and explore all our options,” she said. “Qe will figure out a way to make the awardees whole and honor our commitments.”

PubliCola has a call out to City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, an advocate for tiny house villages and the chair of the council’s homelessness committee, to find out if he will propose supplemental funding for the two projects the regional authority selected. A third grant, for the Equity JustCARE hotel-based shelter program, was not affected by Chopp’s decision.

—Erica C. Barnett

5 thoughts on “City to Sweep Sites of Recent Shootings; Unclear When In-Person Council Meetings Will Resume; Homelessness Authority Frustrated by Chopp Money Grab”

  1. The money that Rep. Chopp has redirected to its original intended purpose i.e. to establish more tiny house villages was about to be redirected by the new KCRHA for other purposes. I approve of what Rep. Chopp has done in this case.

    I suggest Publicola look into the roots of this controversy regarding tiny house villages. Tiny houses are often the only thing that someone living unsheltered including those living in vehicles would accept.

    This kerfuffle over tiny house villages is happening as the City of Seattle is sweeping encampments with no offer of services or alternative shelter. That is not acceptable in my opinion when we are in a homelessness crisis as we have been for a long time.

  2. This is the largest of the cluster of vacant parcels that surround Beacon Place — https://blue.kingcounty.com/Assessor/eRealProperty/Dashboard.aspx?ParcelNbr=0609000055 — that are collectively valued at $8,552,000. I can’t see any reason why the city doesn’t just reclaim them as a public nuisance and get developers to bid on them on a leasehold basis.

    The owner will squawk but based on his comments, he doesn’t care about anything but the speculative value of the property. Best case, the city pays the assessed value, worst case it just takes it. But it could housing people in something other than tents or cardboard boxes.

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